Union endorses plan for one-time bonus for Hamilton County teachers, forgoes 2.5% raise in newest budget proposal

Midday Wednesday at Hixson Middle School, teachers listen as school superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson speaks to the budget that will be given to the Hamilton County Commission / Staff photo by Tim Barber
Midday Wednesday at Hixson Middle School, teachers listen as school superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson speaks to the budget that will be given to the Hamilton County Commission / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Hamilton County Schools leaders and teachers have come to an agreement on teacher compensation for fiscal year 2020.

Teachers will forgo a 2.5% pay raise and will instead receive a $1,500 one-time bonus this fall, if the agreement is approved as part of a budget amendment by the school board Thursday.

School leaders, teacher union representatives and other members of the district's collaborative conferencing team announced the agreement Wednesday.

Instead of spending more than $6 million on teacher raises, the district will fund the bonuses with $6-7 million from the district's $36 million fund balance and will use the freed-up money toward adding in-school suspension monitors, elementary school counselors, special education teachers and other support personnel for students.

The plan was first introduced last week by school board member Tucker McClendon, of District 8, as the board grappled with scaling down its original $443 million proposed budget by more than $33 million.

McClendon proposed using excess general fund dollars to give teachers a bonus, which for many will be more than what they would have received with the 2.5% raise, and using the leftover dollars to fund some of the supports included in the district's original proposed fiscal year 2020 budget.

"Our collaborative conferencing team will not choose between providing the student supports teachers need to do their job with excellence or offering teachers a competitive salary," said Bailey Payne, a teacher at East Hamilton School and unaffiliated teacher representative on the team. "The fact is, our teachers need both: competitive pay and the improved working conditions that result from adequate student supports to address behavior attendance and social emotional learning."

Steven Hinkle, instructional coach at East Brainerd Elementary and representative with the Hamilton County Education Association, said the agreement was a rejection of the status quo.

"The collaborative conference team has concluded that we must reject the noncompetitive, 2.5% salary increase," Hinkle said. "Accepting a status quo pay increase which will barely keep pace with inflation would be accepting the current state in which our district continues to lag behind other districts of our size and our surrounding counties in Tennessee."

Yet, the proposal that the district and the Hamilton County Education Association agreed upon will not give teachers a salary increase at all.

In addition to the one-time bonus, which full-time district employees can expect around Christmas, teachers will receive regularly scheduled salary step increases and the starting base salary for new teachers in Hamilton County is raised to from $39,592 to $40,050 under the agreement.

Several members of the district's senior leadership team, including Superintendent Bryan Johnson and Chief Talent Officer Keith Fogleman, stood alongside teacher representatives during the announcement at Hixson Middle School Wednesday afternoon.

"I stand with our teachers and agree that we can no longer accept the status quo," Johnson said. "We fervently believe that every student deserves access to an excellent teacher. ... We will move forward with the revised 2020 budget proposal tomorrow and turn our focus toward opening school."

McClendon said the agreement will be introduced as an amendment to the current $411 million proposed budget under consideration by the board. School board members were cautious of the plan when it was discussed at last week's school board meeting.

Whether or not his fellow board members will approve the proposal, McClendon said, he didn't know.

"Today we saw that we didn't have to choose between a teacher raise or student supports, but we can have both," he said. "I hope [fellow school board members] will get behind a plan that supports both teachers and students."

The new proposal would be nearly $418 million, with about $8 million from the fund balance to fuel the bonuses included as projected revenue, according to Chief Business Officer Brent Goldberg.

Last week, the school board also heard a recommendation from Johnson's team to use $1 million from the fund balance to eliminate general instruction school fees.

In May, the board approved a school fee policy that would do away with the varying school fees now collected across the district and instead only would allow schools to solicit a $25 arts, science and technology fee as well as standard fees for parking, high school seniors and fees for magnet programs.

With about $1.8 million, the district then will allocate money to schools based on enrollment to replace the lack of school fees paid for by parents and families.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.